“Can I Save My Teen from Failure?”
Your teen is failing high school, and doesn’t seem to care. How can you encourage engagement and success without pushing your child in the opposite direction? Avoid a power-struggle and foster an inner drive to succeed by using these three Cs.
Parents and teachers expect a lot from teenagers: academic achievement, personal accountability, social independence, and the good sense to avoid bad decisions. When these expectations exceed a teen’s own sense of self-esteem and self-worth, he may deal with that stress by opting out — literally disengaging and refusing to attempt achievement at school.
How Parents Can Build Intrinsic Motivation
When teens opt out and stop trying, over-parenting is rarely far behind. Concerned parents try to force teens to engage with more nagging, nudging, lecturing, and pleading. This reaction is natural, but it is also counterproductive. As parental helicopters hover overhead, teens are less likely to take control and accept responsibility for their future.
Micromanaging actually exacerbates the problem.
It’s far better for parents to step back, offer assistance in non-intrusive ways, and foster their child’s inner drive to achieve without threatening his burgeoning independence or masculinity. To do this, use the three Cs:
1. Cede Control In the Power Struggle with Your Teen
You try to control your teen by forcing him to do his homework, or get good grades. He controls you by not doing it.
- Internal motivation follows naturally from autonomy — the freedom to make your own choices.
- Provide parameters, but allow your teen to take charge of a task, like studying for a test. For example, ask your teen what grade he thinks he can achieve on a test if she tries his best. Agree that he should strive for As or Bs, but a C+ is OK if one test is particularly hard.
- Ask your teen if he needs any study help or support, like writing flash cards while he dictates.
- Explain the consequences if he scores a D on a test. For example, you might assume your teen did not spend enough time studying, and therefore restrict the time he’s allowed to socialize or play video games.
- Give your teen space to study without constant supervision. See what happens. Let your child deal with the outcome of her choices by not rescuing her.
- By controlling less and structuring more, parents help teens learn time management and self-regulation.
2. Cultivate Competence In Your Teen with ADHD
When parents over-assist their children, they inadvertently take away the opportunity for them to learn to cope independently. As your child enters adolescence, pull back to teach uncertainty tolerance – that is, how to deal with his own anxiety and how to solve his own problems.
Help your teen build a sense of self-efficacy with these steps.
A. Build a Growth Mindset
Teens with a fixed mindset believe that talent and intelligence come naturally – and that working harder does not produce better results. A person with a fixed mindset thinks, “I can’t do this; I am inherently bad at math.” That mindset can lead to frustration.
Teens with a growth mindset see failure as an opportunity to learn more. If they persist, they will improve and succeed. A person with a growth mindset thinks, “I can’t do this… yet.”
Challenge your teen’s thoughts by asking:
- Do you think intelligence is predetermined and can’t change?
- Do you feel you can learn new things, but can’t really change how intelligent you are?
- Is it true that no matter how much intelligence you have, you can always change it quite a bit?
B. Focus on Process Over Product
Focus on the process, rather than the achievement, you expect from your teen. Rather than praising your teen for his intelligence, tell him you are proud of how hard he works.
When you focus too much on the product, a teen may feel ashamed if he cannot achieve it — and be more likely to opt out as a result.
C. Create Scaffolding to Support Your Teen
Scaffolding supports your teen until he is able to do something on his own, and guides him as he learns how to do things just beyond his capability.
- Make a list of everything you do for your teen in a week. Then cross off everything he can do independently, and let him do it.
- Ask, “What’s your plan?” Instead of telling your teen how to get to soccer practice, or save enough to buy a birthday gift.
- Know your teen’s limits – what he can do, and where he needs assistance. But be careful to provide only the amount of help he needs to keep going. Keep tasks simple to manage frustration.
- Let your teen do the work, but ask questions along the way to lead him in the right direction, and point out things that might be helpful.
- Ask questions about his future self instead of nagging. “How will your future self feel at soccer practice if you stay up all night studying?” “How will your future self feel at the birthday party if you can’t afford a gift because you didn’t finish your chores?”
- Teach teens mantras like, “If you’re having trouble getting started, then the first step is too big,” and “If it’s not in the planner, it doesn’t exist.” This is a subtle way of reminding teens without being too controlling.
3. Create Connection
Your teen needs you to accept who she is right now, not who you think she can become. That also means accepting the limits of parenting. You can protect, nurture, and guide. But during adolescence, your teen needs to start taking control of her own future.
Focus on the process of raising your teen, not the end goal. Parenting is not a skill, it’s a relationship. Foster it by building a close connection with your child. Too much prodding and pushing makes for a very unhappy relationship.
You need the compassion to understand that the problem with school lies not solely with your teen, but with a world that asks too much of him.
The outcome of good parenting is not an 18-year-old who is completely fine on his own, but rather one who is ready to embark on the lifelong process of growth and self-improvement.